The Government of Canada outlines 2024 measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales


The Government of Canada recognizes that Southern Resident killer whales face imminent threats to their survival, and that protecting these iconic marine mammals requires comprehensive and immediate action. Our measures focus on addressing the three primary threats to Southern Resident killer whales: acoustic and physical disturbance, prey availability and accessibility, and contaminants.

Acoustic and physical disturbances from vessels

All vessels, including commercial vessels, recreational boats, and whale watching vessels, have an important role to play in reducing acoustic and physical disturbance. For the sixth consecutive year, Transport Canada is implementing expanded measures for vessel operators.

Vessels must stay at least 400 metres away and must not impede the path of all killer whales year-round in southern British Columbia coastal waters between Campbell River to just north of Ucluelet. Commercial whale-watching and ecotourism companies that receive an authorization from the Minister of Transport will be able to view non-Southern Resident killer whales (such as transient (Biggs) killer whales) from 200 metres, given their expertise in identifying different types of killer whales. This provision does not apply to the Southern Resident killer whale population.

If a vessel finds itself within 400 metres of a killer whale, they are asked to turn off fish finders and echo sounders and put the engine in neutral when safe to do so to allow animals to pass.

If a vessel is within 1,000 metres of a killer whale, they are asked to reduce speed to less than seven knots when safe to do so to lessen engine noise and vessel wake.

The 2024 measures continue the mandatory Speed-Restricted Zones near Swiftsure Bank, co-developed with the Pacheedaht First Nation. All vessels are required to slow down to a maximum of 10 knots while in the areas.

  • From June 1 until November 30, 2024, all vessels must slow down to a maximum of 10 knots in two Speed Restricted Zones near Swiftsure Bank. The first area is in the Protected Fisheries Management Area 121-1 and the second Speed Restricted Zone is located near the mouth of the Nitinat River from Carmanah Point to Longitude 125 degrees west.
  • Exemptions are in place for the following:
    • vessels in distress or providing assistance to a vessel or person in distress
    • vessels avoiding immediate or unforeseen danger
    • government or law enforcement on official business
    • permitted research if the research requires higher speed; and
    • a sailing vessel proceeding under sail and not being propelled by machinery
  • While the mandatory Speed-Restricted Zones and the voluntary slowdowns coordinated by the ECHO Program both cover known foraging areas at or near Swiftsure Bank, they are separate measures from each other and take place in different locations. The ECHO Program slowdown at Swiftsure Bank is a voluntary ship slowdown which takes effect across both the outbound and inbound shipping lanes at Swiftsure Bank, a total distance of 23 nautical miles.

Interim sanctuary zones

Interim sanctuary zones create spaces of refuge for the whales on a temporary basis, pending further research for a longer-term approach. The location of these zones is based on scientific and Indigenous knowledge of historically important foraging areas for Southern Resident killer whales.

  • From June 1 until November 30, 2024, no vessel traffic or fishing activity is allowed in interim sanctuary zones off the southwest coast of South Pender Island and the southeast end of Saturna Island. Exceptions will be allowed for emergency situations and vessels engaged in Indigenous food, social, and ceremonial fisheries.
  • To ensure the safety of those operating human-powered vessels, a 20-metre corridor next to shore will allow kayakers and other paddlers to transit through these zones. If a killer whale is in the sanctuary at the time, paddlers must remain 400 metres away from the whales.

Voluntary Speed Reduction Zone

  • New for the 2024 season, Transport Canada is introducing a voluntary speed reduction zone in Tumbo Channel, in effect from June 1 to November 30, 2024. When travelling through this area, it is recommended that vessels reduce their speed to 10 knots, when safe to do so.

Prey availability

  • Chinook, chum and coho salmon are an essential part of the Southern Resident killer whale diet. To address the limited availability of this prey, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is continuing a combination of fishing restrictions in key foraging areas within their critical habitat, along with voluntary measures coastwide. These measures will reduce disturbance and competition for salmon between fish harvesters and killer whales. Opportunities will be available for non-salmon related recreational and commercial fisheries, for Indigenous food, social and ceremonial harvest as well as Treaty-defined fishing access.
  • The following measures will help protect the whales’ access to salmon and minimize disturbance in key foraging areas:
    • Expanding the area-based closures in Southern Resident killer whale key foraging areas for recreational and commercial salmon fisheries around the Strait of Juan de Fuca (revised closure in a portion of Subarea 20-5, and new closure in a portion of Subarea 20-4). These closures will be in place from August 1 until October 31 for 2024 and 2025.
    • Similar to 2023, area-based closures for recreational and commercial salmon fisheries will be in place in Southern Resident killer whale key foraging areas in Swiftsure Bank (portions of Subareas 20-1, 21-0, 121-1 and 121-2) in effect from July 15 until October 31 for 2024 and 2025, and around the mouth of the Fraser River (a portion of Subarea 29-3) from August 1 to September 30 for 2024 and 2025.
    • The Southern Gulf Islands area-based closures (Subarea 18-9 and portions of 18-2, 18-4 and 18-5) are in effect from May 8 until November 30, 2024 for commercial and recreational salmon fisheries following the first confirmed presence of Southern Resident killer whales in the area in 2024. For 2025, the southern Gulf Islands will be monitored for Southern Resident killer whales starting May 1, and once Southern Resident killer whales are first confirmed to be present in the area, fishing closures will come into effect and remain in place until November 30, 2025.
    • All fishers are encouraged to temporarily cease fishing activities (e.g., do not haul in gear) when killer whales are within 1,000 metres. This voluntary measure is in place year-round throughout Canadian Pacific waters.
  • For the fifth and final year, DFO is planning to increase the release of Chilliwack River fall-run Chinook salmon from one million to two million from the Chilliwack River Hatchery to support the availability of prey within the habitat of Southern Resident killer whales.  There will be ongoing work to assess the effectiveness of the increased Chinook salmon hatchery production in support of Southern Resident killer whale recovery.

Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation Program (ECHO)

 For the eighth year in a row, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led ECHO Program will coordinate large-scale underwater noise reduction measures encouraging ship operators to slow down or stay distanced while traveling through key areas of Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat in Haro Strait, Boundary Pass, Swiftsure Bank, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In May 2024, the Government of Canada renewed a Species at Risk Act conservation agreement with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and industry partners for five years, which formalizes the role of the ECHO Program and partners in developing and implementing voluntary threat reduction measures to mitigate the impacts of large commercial on southern resident killer whales. Full details of the ECHO Program’s voluntary measures, including dates, target slowdown speeds and location coordinates, are available on the ECHO Program's website (


The Government of Canada leads a technical working group focused on contaminants in the environment comprised of key partners from all orders of government, academia and non-governmental organizations. Over the past four years, this group has:

  • identified priority contaminants of concern;
  • provided recommendations for long-term actions; and
  • conducted important monitoring and research, which is ongoing.

Recent progress also includes proposed amendments to the Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations, 2012 and development of environmental quality guidelines.

In addition, the group continues to recommend and develop environmental quality guidelines and compares them with monitoring data to identify areas of potential risk for further action.

The Government of Canada also developed and updated the online Pollutants Affecting Whales and their Prey Inventory Tool, which maps estimates of pollutant releases within the habitats of Southern Resident killer whales and their primary prey, Chinook salmon. This tool will help model the impacts of additional mitigation measures and controls.

Reflecting on the persistence of many contaminants in the environment, the Government of Canada and its partners continue to progress on long-term actions to support Southern Resident killer whale recovery in the following areas:

  • develop and implement additional controls, such as regulations or guidelines, to reduce the threat of contaminants;
  • conduct research and monitoring to further our understanding of contaminants in the environment and their impacts;
  • share data, information, and knowledge among partners to inform decision-making; and
  • undertake outreach, education and engagement to inform the public and involve them in solutions.

Compliance with management measures depends on public awareness. The Government of Canada continues to collaborate with educational organizations, environmental groups, Indigenous partners, and government bodies in Canada and the United States to raise awareness of the Southern Resident killer whale protection measures through public education and outreach efforts.

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